Black Swan Lane has, for me, always seemed a bit like a band encased in amber. While I've largely admired and enjoyed its albums, which perfectly packaged the sound and style of the acts that emerged out of Manchester, England, in the mid-'80s, I always felt like part of the reason I engaged with the music was because I had been a fan of its forebears.
If that particular British Invasion had not hit home with me during an important moment of my musical development, would I have as much patience for Black Swan Lane as I have?
After listening to Staring Down the Path of Sound , I have to say yes, probably I would.
As with previous incarnations, the core of the group remains Jack Sobel and Augusta's own John Kolbeck. This time, the group has pulled Garden City chanteuse Lauren Fay out of retirement to provide back vocals and a small dose of drama. The result is a record that, while sharing the DNA of the English acts that came before -- Joy Division and Jesus and Mary Chain, the Smiths and most notably, Chameleons UK -- has an American muscularity that adds a welcome dimension to the songs.
What's interesting about this act, which began slowly but now seems to be releasing material at an accelerated pace, is its focused evolution.
The last album, released one year ago, was a portrait of a band learning to retain its textural prowess while applying to more structured song arrangements. Path of Sound , in contrast, seems to be the record where Sobel and Kolbeck have attempted to hone a sound that not only works in the studio, but also on the stage. The guitars sound fuller and are pushed further toward the front. They are allowed to bark and squeal a little, to do the things that a guitar does when let off its leash.
It seems to be an intentional step away from the somewhat restrained sounds, the polish and intentionality, that often typified the Manchester sound. Rather than a careful re-creation, this sounds like an American act drawing on the same sort of emotional elements and aesthetic benchmarks of English indie. It's a welcome shift.
There's more good news. I spoke to Kolbeck last weekend, and after acknowledging that this project does seem to be accelerating, he mentioned that there could be a string of Black Swan Lane shows on offer. No dates seem to have been hammered down yet, but it seems likely that an act with such substantial Augusta ties would be willing to throw the hometown a musical bone.